Broken or not?

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Broken?

Broken or not?

At snack time or lunch, that was a favorite game of my daughters. One would hold up an apple slice or a Ritz cracker or shiny orange Clementine and demand of the other, “Broken or not?”

They were both pretty masterful at holding a broken cracker or piece of fruit in such a way as to camouflage its fault lines. They loved to trick each other, and trick me, too. It was so hard to tell.

Because you cannot always tell if something—or someone—is whole by merely looking, can you?

I remember in the weeks after my father died suddenly, back when I was eighteen. I’d put on lots of mascara every morning, so that I wouldn’t cry, because if I did, it would give me raccoon eyes. I didn’t want any one to know how badly I was hurting. I didn’t know what to do with it, the pain. If I started crying, I might never stop; how embarrassing that would be. No one ever taught me anything but to pretend to be okay, to deny my real feelings. It ran in the family. Schooled from birth, like Tiger Woods was with golf, I was an ace.

My dad pretended he was okay right up until he died from it. Oh, it was a heart attack that killed him, but my personal theory is that sometimes illnesses spring from—or are worsened by— the grinding stress of hiding feelings. And we are trained to hide them, for fear of being labeled ‘broken.’ Our culture demands us to be perfect parents, perfect children, perfect wives, perfect workers. To be magically ‘perfectly adjusted’ without working through grief and trauma.

I used to sometimes reflexively use the phrase, “practice makes perfect,” with my girls, mostly right about when they were supposed to do math homework or play piano or violin. They would always shoot back, “But Mom, you always say that nobody’s perfect!” And I would smile and say, of course, that’s true.

Because I’d say that, too, all the time—like when I’d drop an egg on newly mopped floor, or especially if one of them did.

Of the two old sayings, only “nobody’s perfect” rings true.

The most together-looking people can be the most broken inside. You never really know, unless you get to know someone, unless you earn their trust and confidence, and even then—they have to be open enough or broken enough to expose their hidden wounds.

Which for some people is painfully hard, or even maybe impossible without help and work.

I think the true answer to the broken or not question—as it applies to humans, not fruit or crackers— is that we’re all broken at some point, and not all breaks heal completely. Some wounds ache forever. Being gentle with each other is always a good practice. Because more of us are broken, than not.

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  1. #1 by angelamoore2013 on March 28, 2015 - 2:36 am

    Very moved by this, Elaine. ❤

  2. #2 by CMSmith on March 28, 2015 - 6:48 am

    My philosophy of life exactly. We never know the burdens others, including the slow cashier, may carry. Good post. I hope all is going well for you.

  3. #3 by Mary Ellen on March 28, 2015 - 10:42 am

    Thank you Elaine. Rings so true to my family from generations back. “No news is good news” was one of the broken mantras in our home and extended family. “Leave them happier than when you found them” no matter how you are feeling. “Stop your crying or I’ll give you something to cry about”
    “Fake it to Make it” were all thought of as correct ways to interact with folks; family included. As the years have gone by and the increasing cases of family alcoholism, anxiety, depression, self medicating; we are trying to go for the “sharing is caring” It is not an easy turn around for any of us. Just the exposure of depression, alcoholism, and anxiety let alone the going to someone for help. Especially a doctor; and medication OMG! We are a society of broken or not and sometimes our selfishness with strangers feelings is due to our own past family tapes going on in our heads. Really loved this post. Thank you! Wishing you warm days and warm thoughts this cold spring day.

    • #4 by Elaine Olund on April 20, 2015 - 10:09 pm

      Absolutely, Mary Ellen. Shut it all inside, right? Wishing you warm days and much joy!

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